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Working hard to catch up

Charles Thursby on troubled times for Red Bull

With only a few weeks to go until the opening Grand Prix of the 2014 Formula One season, the Red Bull team is currently in a spot of difficulty with the development of its new car – see here for an article upon the problem on the website of the Daily Telegraph today – RED BULL ISSUES

Traditionally, it is hard to keep up with developments in the world of Formula One, the all-pervasive global business enterprise masquerading as motor sport that has been created from scratch by the legendary Bernie Ecclestone over the past forty-plus years.

Governments fall over themselves to bow down to F1’s dictator in the hope of expectation of meeting his exacting demands and securing for themselves a place – however temporary – in the list of venues graced by the FI circus as it proceeds on its annual marketing and money-generating expedition.

Simultaneously, team managements wait in constant trepidation for Bernie’s latest tinkerings with the rules on technical specifications, pit stops, tyre use and the points system – of which the radical changes demanded for 2014, now causing Red Bull its problems, are simply the latest.

Central to all of this, of course, is a commercial imperative, i.e. keeping ‘the product’ attractive to the near-infinite worldwide television audience which generates the tsunami of revenue coming into the sport. Compared to these, the multi-million pound cost effect of every slight adjustment of the ‘rules and specifications’ tiller – however misguided and whacky they may seem to those outside F1 who are looking in – are but a mere bagatelle.

The perfect example of this at work in F1 occurred a few years back when a member of Ferrari’s technical team defected to Mercedes McLaren, taking with him some of Ferrari’s secrets.

Whether Mercedes McLaren made much, or any, use of them is unclear. But they were judged ‘guilty’ when the matter came before the F1 authorities and got fined. Guess how much? £50 million.

Let me repeat that – they got fined fifty million pounds sterling.

You might have thought that would teach the offenders a lesson and/or that the effect of this ruling would impact upon their team’s operations for the following season. Or indeed, for several years to come after that. Not really. What actually happened was that Mercedes’ Ron Dennis wrote out a proverbial cheque for £50 million … and that was that. Incident over. But it demonstrates just how much money is sloshing around within the world of F1. Tens, if not hundreds, of industry insiders have become millionaires as a result and, for obvious reasons, nobody wants to rock the boat unduly or – horror of horrors – kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

At the moment, of course, Mr Ecclestone is having a little spot of bother over a series of bribery allegations to do with a change in ownership of some part of F1 or another. Or maybe it’s over the ownership of the entirety of F1. Nobody is quite sure. Probably not even Bernie.

One day, of course – because (presumably) not even Bernie Ecclestone can defy the march of Time – there will have to be a succession. Nobody is in any doubt but that it will be difficult, potentially impossible, to replace Bernie with a combination of several people, let alone a single individual.

To all intents and purposes, Bernie is Formula One. Nobody can deny his achievement in creating and developing F1 to where it has currently reached. His positive attributes include drive, tireless energy and single-mindedness.

At the moment it may not surprise anyone that he is devoting much of his time to trying to weaken Red Bull’s stranglehold upon F1 success, simply because too much dominance by a single team threatens to undermine the vital illusion that the sport is genuinely competitive – which, of course, it is not … and has never been.

I possess a small amount of insider knowledge – albeit, as the saying goes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The Red Bull team’s current difficulties over their 2014 car, for which the new specifications have been known for about a year, arise from directly their 2013 word championship success.

As early as six or seven races before the end of last year, it became clear that Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel were going to emerge on top. At that point, all but Red Bull – and the two other teams who technically might have been in with a shout if by any chance Red Bull should have a  catastrophic meltdown – ‘gave up’ on the 2013 season and instead switched their attentions to developing their 2014 cars.

By the time of the last three races, Red Bull was the sole team working flat out on securing the 2013 world championships. They only began working seriously upon their 2014 car on the weekend after the 2013 titles were secured.

As a result, they were two to six months behind everyone else.

Normally, F1 technical teams begin by securing the basic design and mechanics of their new car and then gradually – over weeks and then months – ‘crank up’ the pressure, step by step, in order to achieve the maximum speed and performance that they can under the new regulations.

This time around, Red Bull decided to try and catch up on the development stakes by doing things the other way around, i.e. designing the car and mechanics ‘to the maximum’ straight away and taking the chance that, by this route, they could get to and maintain top speed and performance instantly.

It hasn’t worked. They have encountered all sorts of niggles and hiccups and are struggling to overcome them.

The upshot?

My understanding is that, internally, Red Bull have already accepted that the chances of their cars actually finishing the first Grand Prix of the season (Melbourne) are next to nil.

They’re working as hard as they can, but they’re not expecting to become truly competitive until at least three, possibly four, races into the season.








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About Charles Thursby

After a lifetime in sports journalism, Charles Thursby continues his immersion in the world of sport by providing the National Rust with dispatches from all points of the compass. More Posts